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What's the Best White Wine for Cooking?

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2005

Are some white wines better for cooking than others?

When a recipe calls for "dry white wine," it's tempting to grab whatever open bottle is in the fridge, regardless of grape varietal. Are we doing our dishes a disservice? Sure, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc may taste different straight from the glass, but how much do those distinctive flavor profiles really come through once the wines get cooked down with other ingredients?

To find out, we tried three different varietals and a supermarket "cooking wine" in five recipes: braised fennel, risotto, a basic pan sauce, a beurre blanc, and chicken chasseur. In our tests, only Sauvignon Blanc consistently boiled down to a "clean" yet sufficiently acidic flavor—one that played nicely with the rest of the ingredients. Differences between the wines were most dramatic in gently flavored dishes, such as the risotto and beurre blanc. 

But what's a cook without leftover Sauvignon Blanc to do? Is there a more convenient option than opening a fresh bottle? To find out, we ran the same cooking tests with sherry and vermouth, wines fortified with alcohol to increase their shelf life. Sherry was too distinct and didn't fare well in these tests, but vermouth performed well. In fact, its clean, bright flavor bested all but one of the drinking wines. And most bottles cost between $7 and $15, roughly what we spend on white wine for cooking. 


Highly Recommended

Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp, clean, and bright, this wine was strong enough to share the spotlight with other ingredients but refused to steal the show.

Dry Vermouth: A pleasing sweet/tart balance made this fortified wine a close second. And, after being opened, it can be stored in the refrigerator for months.


Recommended with Reservations

Chardonnay: Most inexpensive Chardonnays are simply too oaky from barrel aging for most recipes. When cooked, "oaky" became bitter, not woody.

Riesling: This wine's fruity sweetness was out of place in most of the dishes. Buy a dry Riesling if you're planning on cooking with it.


Not Recommended

Cooking Wine: The salt used to preserve inexpensive cooking wine makes it unpotable.

Sherry: Complex sherry worked well with the robust flavors in chasseur, but its "earthy" notes dominated the simple beurre blanc and risotto.